Young and Hungry

Spot Check: Marvelous Market on Dupont Circle

Note: In preparation for Young & Hungry's baguette column next week (not this week, as previously reported here), we stopped at Marvelous Market, originally founded in 1990 by Mark Furstenberg, to see how the local institution is faring so many years after Furstenberg was essentially forced to sell his much-beloved bakeries.

The heavy wooden beams and exposed red brick at the Marvelous Market on Dupont Circle give the place the kind of warm, rustic vibe that you want from your neighborhood bakery. The spell, however, is broken the moment you open your mouth and ask one basic question: Do you bake your own breads?

Marvelous doesn't. It gets daily deliveries from Baguette Republic, which is co-owned by Dahmane Benabane, who worked as executive chef for Marvelous Market for 15 years. The Republic plies this shop — and every other in the Marvelous chain — with all manner of product, from pastries to muffins to loaves of various shape and size. Many of them, despite their transit from Northern Virginia, are fresh and delicious.

Tops among them is the chocolate croissant, a bronzed buttery purse of puff pastry filled with a thin strip of rich chocolate and lots of air, which helps to create a false impression of lightness. The baguette is decent example of the breadmaker's art — crusty and airy and far superior to that bread wad over at Firehook. The sourdough boule gives you a blast of sour all right — somewhere just south of old wine — but its crust has an off-putting texture that I'd place somewhere between plastic and old cardboard.

The truth is, Marvelous Market has strayed far beyond the European breadmaking traditions of its founder, Mark Furstenberg. It has, by its own admission, morphed into something that blends "Panera, Starbucks, Potbelly, Dean & Deluca, and Seven 11 (sic)" under one roof. As such, it can get pretty crowded in the narrow aisle inside the Dupont store, as customers elbow for fruit-juice blends, pre-made sandwiches, pates, cheeses, coffee, hell even pre-cut flowers. The sandwiches, particularly the fresh-as-a-Mediterranean-breeze caprese, are a fine option for those who want a quick lunch without sacrificing their soul (and their arteries) to the practitioners of fast-food sorcery.

But can you ever expect to wrap your mouth around something as deliriously tasty as the sandwiches that Breadline turned out during its Furstenberg heyday? Get real. Marvelous Market figured out long ago that artisan ambitions don't pay the bills.

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  • Foodie Frank

    Interesting how City Paper compares the Marvelous Market of today with the Breadline of yesteryear, during "its Furstenberg heyday." Why stop there? Does MM's prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich compare to that of the local butcher's in a remote 19th century Tuscany village, where the artisinal loaf was in the baker's oven only mere hours before it was cooled, piled high with glorious ham, cheese, oil and basil, and placed in the mouth of the farmer just coming off a hard day's work in the fields?

    The bottom line is that Marvelous Market is what it says it is - a high end convenience store - and it is, for the most part, very successful in this role (never mind the ailing Tenleytown and Ballston locations). Their food quality follows suit - not the best, but far from the worst, with a hefty premium for the convenience. Thank you, CP, for pointing out the obvious.

  • Tim Carman

    Hey Foodie Frank, did you read this review or did you just decide to play the ignoramus on purpose? You seem to forget that Marvelous Market was founded by Furstenberg who also founded Breadline. That he was the one to give both places their importance and character in this city. Do you really think it's the stretch you portray here? Didn't think so.

  • Elizabeth

    I've not lived long enough to try a panino in a remote, 19th-century Tuscan village, and as most of us know, culinary practices change over time. Nonetheless, Italians do not pile their sandwiches high with the number of items you find in Italian subs in the United States. A layer of mozzarella and one of seasoned, cooked spinach, thinly spread between two layers of bread. Prosciutto cotto and artichoke hearts in another. Etc. Basta cosi. Panini wait in glass cases in corner bars for sweaty workers to come in for an espresso and complain about the way Americans confuse nouns (Tuscany) and adjectives (Tuscan).

    Tim, are you ONLY covering store-bought baguettes in your column or are you acknowledging the loaves brought to farmers markets throughout the metro area?

  • Elizabeth

    Oops. " have tried a panino..." Never good to play Grammar Police.

  • Tim Carman

    Good question about the baguettes. I tried to secure at least one farmers market baguette for the competition, one that I think is terrific. But I couldn't get the baker to ship me some. (You'll read about it on Thursday.) Which ones would you suggest for next year's competition?

  • Elizabeth

    Since baguettes are best eaten right away, whoever it was that you approached probably has a lot of integrity. Shoulda been a contender.

    It would not be prudent for me to make a recommendation; I rarely eat baguettes. However, if you're looking for really good bread around here, head out to the streets.

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  • dave

    Yesterday I went by Dupont Marvelous Market and they were closed by the health department for rodents!

    You are a moron foodie frank and all the rest who would pay way too much for hype-not quality, unless you like the rats and mice with a little ham and cheese frank!

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